Laertes, a young Danish lord, is the son of Polonius and brother of Ophelia. He spends most of his time abroad at college (which means we don't see much of him) but he's a significant figure in the play.
Laertes's character is, perhaps, best known for being an obvious foil to that of Prince Hamlet. After Hamlet kills Polonius, Laertes faces the same problem that Hamlet does – a murdered father. Yet, Laertes's reaction to his father's death is very different from Hamlet's response to news of his own father's murder. While Hamlet lollygags and broods over the murder for much of the play, Laertes takes immediate action. He storms home from France as soon as he hears the news, raises a crowd of followers, and invades the palace. Then he starts asking questions – unlike Hamlet, who asks a whole lot of questions before he finally gets around to avenging his father's death. Laertes, of course, is manipulated by Claudius into a deadly duel with the prince and ultimately comes to the same tragic end as Hamlet. For more on Laertes's relationship to the play's theme of "Revenge," check out our "Quotes."
Laertes is also notable for his excessive "love" for Ophelia. So, what's the deal with Laertes and his little sis? Recall that Laertes makes a huge deal about Ophelia's "unpolluted flesh" at her funeral – that is, just before he screams at the priest to rot in hell and leaps into Ophelia's grave while shouting "Hold off the earth a while, / Till I have caught her once more in mine arms" (5.1.5). This, of course, happens just before Laertes fights with his dead sister's ex-boyfriend about who loved Ophelia the most. Clearly, there are traces of incestuous desire at work here, which isn't so surprising in a play that revolves around a young man (Hamlet) who's consumed with his mother's sexuality and marriage to her brother-in-law. Check out our discussion of "Family" for more on this.Laertes Timeline